Several months ago, when we knew we would be in Milan for Thanksgiving, we invited friends from London to visit us for the holiday. They countered with a suggestion that the four of us meet in Venice. Why not?
So we made our plans to stay at a hotel near Piazza San Marco that was included in their package. I didn’t expect to find turkey and all the sides, but I did discover a restaurant named Osteria La Zucca – “The Pumpkin” – where I thought Thanksgiving dinner would be an interesting experience.
A few weeks ago, I began to read in the paper about flooding in the Veneto – the Italian region where Venice is located – and that’s when I learned about alta acqua, “high water.”
I should have learned more. While it was a pleasure to be in Venice when relatively few other tourists were there, the high waters did impact us. When I asked at the hotel desk on the first afternoon if alta acqua was coming soon, he said that if we returned to the hotel by 10:30 p.m., we’d be fine. About 10, we walked to Piazza San Marco and found it filling up like a formerly empty swimming pool.
The next morning, when we assumed the waters would have receded, we instead found our way blocked in several directions by standing sewer water that was as much as 8” deep in places, depending on the pitch of the sidewalk.
What we also didn’t know was that the time of alta acqua changes daily. Our friends were leaving on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, around 2 p.m. We took a long walk in the morning and stopped on the sunny shore for a snack.
On the way back to our hotel so our friends could pick up their luggage, we had to walk on the gangplanks that the city sets up for people to make their way over the water. When the gangplanks came to an end, however, our path was blocked by deep water. I led everyone back and tried another route: also blocked.
Finally our friend, claiming she had been raised in a boarding school where conditions were far worse, gave me her shoes and long coat (it was quite cold), and waded through water up to her knees; about 10 minutes later she returned with the luggage in hand.
At that moment, two other Englishwomen on their way out of town offered our friends their waders. If you don’t want to buy boots, Venetians will sell you bright blue plastic bags with soles. Thus our friends could reach the quay where their water taxi would take them to the airport.
We continued our sightseeing and had dinner without confronting any more acqua alta that day. On Friday morning, the concierge assured us that if we left our hotel by 10 a.m. we would be fine. When the siren went off about 9:20 a.m., however, we headed immediately to the train station. My caution was not in vain: water around the hotel was already about 2” deep, and it was raining. We had a long wait at the train station (no benches) but we felt like lucky refugees when we finally got on the warm dry train and headed west toward the snow-capped Dolomites on our way back to Milan.
We knew that La Zucca emphasized local fresh vegetables, and we were not disappointed. The highlights were two primi piatti: tagliatelle with gorgonzola and pistachios, and divine roasted artichoke hearts; and the contorni: leeks baked with a crispy parmesan crust, an eggplant and pepper flan; and the dolce: pear mousse with chocolate sauce. Though we were in the first seating, the lamb chops were gone, so I ate my first guinea fowl and decided I prefer roasted turkey, and not just for Thanksgiving.